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Alone in the Dark

Without so much as a subtitle, Atari is rebooting the “Alone in the Dark” franchise, previously known to some as the progenitor of the "survival horror" genre and others as a terrible Uwe Boll movie.

Without so much as a subtitle, Atari is rebooting the “Alone in the Dark” franchise, previously known to some as the progenitor of the “survival horror” genre and to others as a terrible Uwe Boll movie. But this confused goulash of driving challenges, old-school puzzles, zombie battles, some late-game tomb-raidering and even a bit of “Grand Theft Auto” in the park fails at pretty much everything it tries to do. Gamers’ inevitable dismay and poor sales will only degrade the series’ already dwindled reputation.

The original “Alone in the Dark” games were inspired by haunted houses. This iteration, which is almost never scary, draws its inspiration from summer blockbusters. The single exception is an effective midgame moment involving the main character closing his eyes, but everything else is about spectacular “eyegasms” drawn from Irwin Allen movies, “Doom” games, or anything involving snarling zombies. The technology occasionally looks good (kudos for the awesome fire effects), but it’s constantly falling apart, with glitches, wacky physics, inconsistent sound and bad controls. It’s the horror movie equivalent of being able to see the zipper running down the back of the monster suit.

The combat is a throwback to the staid “Resident Evil”-style control system, with some ridiculous physics-based melee tacked on. The driving sequences are laughable throwaway bits that appear to have been outsourced to the lowest bidder. The adventure game puzzles, which alternate between frustrating and hackneyed, feel particularly out of place.

Furthermore, it’s not always clear whether the player is doing the wrong thing or whether a glitch is keeping the game from advancing. There’s an interesting inventory system involving pockets and right hand/left hand combos, but with its bits of tape and cloth, the whole thing has the absurd feel of MacGyver’s Greatest Hits. Fortunately, New York City is littered with plastic bottles of gasoline and fifths of highly flammable vodka. Burn, zombie, burn.

To mimic TV, the game is arranged into episodes, each with its own laughable “previously on ‘Alone in the Dark’ ” recap. The story and characters are far too threadbare to need a recap. It’s even more curious that players can fast-forward past sequences that are too difficult. Since much of “Alone in the Dark” involves dying multiple times, trying to figure something out or getting past a tricky situation, this fast-forward gimmick is like the developers copping to the fact that their game is often simply annoying instead of challenging.

To its credit, “Alone in the Dark” has some great moments: free-roaming through a mist-shrouded, zombie-infested Central Park; racing through the crumbling streets and collapsing skyscrapers of Manhattan; and precariously tiptoeing across shattered subway cars perched on the edge of a hellish abyss. They would have worked wonderfully in a better game.

Alone in the Dark

Rated M. $40 - $60.

Production: An Atari presentation of a game developed by Eden Studios for the PC, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360 and Hydravision for the Playstation 2 and Wii. Reviewed on the Xbox 360.

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